As a result of the years of putting up with a dictator, no trade, failed currency and no such things that westerners would take for granted, the people of Zimbabwe are an incredible race. They are genuinely brave, positive, smiling, entrepreneurial and enthusiastic toward life and especially tourists. There is a sense of pride amongst them in regard to the fact they are still going, still smiling and still have people visiting their beautiful country. Nowadays they are tortured by bad press and an ever-failing economy, however they plough on and make joy where they can, which is sharing their country with others. Everyone, from all ages, speaks conversational English due to their passionate education system.
ZIMBABWEAN SAFARI GUIDES
The safari guides within Zimbabwe are of a totally different rank to the rest of Southern and Eastern Africa. They have a vigorous and difficult training process that runs alongside the archaic professional hunter’s programme. This gives them a deeper and stronger understanding of the animals they seek as well as the wilderness and world they work in. I have never met so many impassioned geniuses in all my life and I doubt I ever will. The traditional guide training is famous amongst guides throughout Sub-Saharan Africa it was clear why. It takes years of work and investment and prepares one for a lifetime of work within the trade. Stars, rocks, trees, birds and mammals are just a few of the interesting subjects that Zimbabwean guides are experts in. Approximately, only two hundred guides have qualified as Professional Guides since 1980 in Zimbabwe, which shows its complexity.
Zimbabwe is an ideal safari holiday destination. It has a compendium of different sites that differ significantly and are easily combinable logistically. Not only does Zimbabwe have a number of densely populated wildlife havens, but it also has some of the most stunning landscapes, historical sites and water focussed areas. You can visit all year round as long as you don’t mind a flash rain storm or very hot days. Hwange National Park, Victoria Falls, Mana Pools, Lake Kariba and The Matopus were the five main destinations on my trip. I sadly missed the Gonarezhou National Park and the Eastern Highlands which are both meant to be paradises.
I started my trip in the town of Victoria Falls. I stayed in the famous Victoria Falls Hotel. Based beside the gorge that swoops away from the vast water falls, this hotel is a vital place to visit if you are nearby. It is very amusing as well as a pleasure to be there. The old style, colonial décor, fantastic service and great views are enough to make anyone grin with joy. While in the Falls it is clear that tourists are flooding in. Hotels, Bars and AirBnB’s are opening all over and everything is buzzing. If you look at negative TripAdvisor reports for Victoria Falls, the most frequent comments are all to do with the ‘buzzing’ helicopters in the sky above the hotel. I visited new lodges and camps that are built away from the centre of town to avoid the bustle of the centre. Mpala Jena and Stanley Livingstone are both fantastic options outside of town. I visited the Devils Pool where I swam to the edge of the tumbling waters. A must do if visiting the falls in the dryer months.
MATOPOS NATIONAL PARK
I then self-drove down to the Matopus National Park. This was the best car hire service I have ever had. The car is dropped at the hotel, you are given the keys and a jerry can full of precious fuel to ensure that you don’t run out. It was approximately a four-hour straight drive from Victoria Falls and a beautiful road at that. When arriving into the Matopus Hills first stop was Amalinda Lodge. I have wanted to visit the Matopus for years and everyone had told me of its magnificence. I walked with the Rhinos, visited Cecil Rhodes’ grave, found ancient bush paintings (in my room) and went for lovely hikes in the Matopus Hills. It was heavenly. Worlds View is one of the most insane views on the earth. No wonder Cecil Rhodes wanted to be buried there.
HWANGE NATIONAL PARK
I dropped my car at Hwange National Park Main Camp with a very friendly Europe Car Rep. I then proceeded to visit some of Hwange’s best camps. Khulu, Somalisa, Linkwasha were just three of many the fantastic options. The guiding was first class throughout. There are 44,000 elephants in Hwange National Park. Scientists think that approximately 15,000 is the maximum number of elephants that should be in this relatively small area. Guides were fascinated to know what will happen next. It is a huge talking point in Zimbabwe at the moment. I saw relatives of Cecil the illustrious lion that was sadly killed two years ago. They live on bravely and providing great entertainment to the lucky few tourists that see them. Hwange is unnaturally pumped with watering holes on a daily basis throughout the seasons. This means that game is prominent all year round. From April to October the game viewing is super due to less foliage and water meaning animals are easier to see. November to May is great for the birders as it is wetter and greener but also colder in mornings and nights.
MANA POOLS NATIONAL PARK
Mana Pools National Park was the next stop. A superb park on the south banks of the mighty Zambezi River. Camps are generally based on the banks of the river giving access to not only fantastic game but also water activities such as canoeing, fishing and boating safaris. Walking is a huge focus in this park. I was lucky enough to walk into Boswell, the last old guard tusker elephant left in Zimbabwe. He has developed incredible feeding habits where he stands on his back legs to reach the lush food in to top of the acacia trees. I visited Kanga Camp, which is one of the only inland camps in the park. I spotted a plethora leopard and civets at the watering hole in front of the camp. I visited Nyamatusi, the new African Bush Camps property that is opening in April. It will be the only permanent luxury camp in the park in a very special location. I also stayed at Ruckomochi and Zambezi Expeditions Camp. I caught a good-sized tiger fish and saw elephants swimming and using their trunks as a snorkel. It sounds tiring but in reality, the whole experience was very relaxing.
I finished my adventure on the Lake Kariba. A fascinating wonder to see. This is the largest man-made lake in the world. Created in 1960, this lake covers a vast area between Zimbabwe and Zambia. I stayed at Bumi Hills and Changa Camp. Bumi Hills was like a Sicilian villa sitting on the edge of the hill with flowery stone paths winding to beautifully designed rooms. It has recently been taken over by African Bush Camps and therefore is a safe bet in terms of service and guiding. Changa Camp was heaven on earth. Large canvas tents are set around a cove on the lakes edge with incredible views across the water. At both camps I spend my time fishing for Tiger Fish and bream that I ate for supper both nights. I watched the sun go down from the middle of the lake. When they flooded/created the lake numerous trees are still standing under the surface. Therefore, there are the skeletons of trees poking up and creating a very good sun down photograph opportunities. Matusadona National Park is found on the banks of the lake on the Zimbabwean side and it has the best walking safari opportunities I have ever been on. I walked into lion, elephant and buffalo with my guide from Changa Camp.
Zimbabwe is a fantastic place to go for so many reasons. It is an exciting adventure and not at all scary as the papers and news might give you the impression. You must visit before it becomes too busy with other tourists.
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